Thursday, December 24, 2009

Networking Helps Writing Teachers, Too!

Recently, I read an article on the National Writing Project.  During an interview with George Mason University professor Donald R. Gallehr, he recalled the beginnings of the project and the shifts in teachers he is seeing; namely their comfort zone with classroom visitors as well as their status as real writers.  The connection I made with this article, is with the work we are doing in our classrooms implementing 6 + 1 traits.  In Jay, we are collaborating on student writing and teaching as well as visiting colleagues.  The level of this conversation is lifted into the realm of real writing as we use the language from 6 +1 traits.  

I am beginning to think we should look into the possibility of creating a NING for all educators interested in sharing their ideas about the writing process in their classrooms.  We presently have one for those teachers who are participating in the project, but do not have one for everyone. 

 I shall be working on this over Christmas break.  Let me know if you are interested.  It should be ready at the beginning of the year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Voice for January

Voice is the author’s fingerprint on the page. By using voice the reader feels more in touch with the writer’s emotions, opinions, and personality. Voice is a favorite trait of students. They love to read books with lots of voice which in turn carries over to their writing.

Voice is one of the most challenging traits to teach because it is an orchestration of many elements.  For me, it is difficult to separate word choice, sentence variety, from voice.  In my search for more clarity to share with the teachers, I have found several web sites.  I am offering them to you in hopes that they will help you and your students as well.  

Christopher Meeks  - this blog explores the different types of voice - what is appropriate for which social register. He has some excellent, practical ideas.

Christopher Meeks writes for and teaches creative writing at CalArts, and he also teaches at Santa Monica College and UCLA Extension. He has published four nonfiction children's books and written many short stories. His stories have been published most recently in The Santa Barbara Review, The Southern California Anthology, Rosebud, and Writers' Forum. His plays--Fiveplay, Suburban Anger, and Who Lives?-- have been produced in Los Angeles. Who Lives? earned several grants for its production, including one from The Pilgrim Project, a group that assists plays that "ask questions of real moral significance." For seven years, he was a theater reviewer for Daily Variety, and for two years he wrote a column for Writer's Digest. His screenplay, Henry's Room, won the Donald Davis Dramatic Writing Award.

Voice  I love this blog.  It consists of teaching materials for all six traits.

RAFTS  This is one of the best ways to teach voice.  We are all familiar with how to use a R(ole) A(udience) F(ormat) T(opic) S(trong verb - only in 6+1 traits).  This blog gives some great ideas and explainations.

Enjoy this information and the holidays.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Visit to Jay Middle School on December 7, 2009

On Monday, we used our new meeting format at Jay Middle School.  As I mentioned earlier, we had decided to try a different format for my time spent teaming with the teachers.  Each teacher met with me as we reviewed their lesson plans regarding organization.  

Following are the highlights of the conversations we had.  We are sharing them with you in hopes that they will help you tweak your teaching:)
  1. Lynn O. is working with her students on a 5 paragraph essay.  She has had them write about personal topics and is now moving them into writing based on research.  Lynn began instruction with sorts - requiring students sort the facts based on what made sense to them.  She followed this with modeling how she would put her facts together into cohesive paragraphs.  We decided to focus on cohesive paragraphs - a little longer - by having her model thinking/logic when organizing the the paragraph as well as providing students with opportunities to "talk through" their paragraphs with peers.
  2. Diane M. met with me to discuss organizers for posters her students were making.  She had provided students with paragraph starters along with the topic that was to be covered in that section.  Added to this organizer were boxes for students to list verbs and descriptors.  This had been a project for a while and Diane wanted to continue using it.  It came out of the book, A Year Full of Writing for Middle School, by Teacher Created Materials, Inc.  Many teachers have excellent writing projects that can be used with 6 + 1 - by adding a slight shift in focus.
  3. Colleen S. wanted to discuss a social studies project.  She had used a similar approach to Diane's.  This works well since they share the same students.  We looked at how to assist students when they respond to text in the content area and settled on Constructed Responsand how to create a rubric based on traits Trait Based .  We have included the sites here for your use. However, the high point of the conversation came when Colleen talked about instructing students regarding the reciprocity between reading and writing at this level. (I am hoping she will write a post for us soon!) 
  4. Susan S. met with me next.  All of the 5th and 6th graders are in the same wing now and their teachers are trying to co-ordinate rubrics, etc. in order to maintain consistency with their students.  During our discussion, we were able to look at what kinds of organization worked best for what genres and which format was more supportive.  Teachers had created rubrics with clear identifiable elements.  Rubrics reinforce organization as well as setting clear goals for students when shared with their students before the project is begun.  
  5. Nancy G. met with me to discuss how to use some graphic organizers.  She had purchased a book, Using Graphic Organizers to Increase Reading Comprehension in the Content Areas, published by Mark Twain/Carson-Dellosa Publishing Co. Inc.  Nancy and I discussed the importance of think alouds when using these graphic organizers as well as the reciprocity between reading and writing once again.
Lessons Learned:
  • Rubrics are key for all students when writing - especially when given to the students before they write.
  • Reciprocity between reading and writing strategies are crucial at this age as well.
  • Many writing projects can still be used by simply shifting the instruction to focus on one of the traits.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 4, at Jay Middle School

On Friday, I was fortunate enough to spend the morning conferencing with Cheri P., special education teacher at Jay Middle School.  We reviewed her students and looked at where they were in the writing process.  She has one group she finds challenging, so we took the time to work together and brainstorm some solutions.  

We discussed their writing and their process and determined they had not yet established fluency.  This is often a problem for special ed. students for a variety of  reasons. 
  • Sometimes they have low oral language.  This prewsents a challenge because early reading and writing are base on oral language. 
  • Sometimes the physical act of writing slows down the thinking.
  • Sometimes short term memory can not hold the information long enough to write the complete thoughts.
Given all of the challenges, we decided to use the four sqare format  (look at the bottom of the page and you can download a powerpoint) to create brief group compositions on common experiences the students have had.  The general framework looked something like this.

  1. Choose a recent experience all students have had.  Share the topic with the students, i.e. Thanksgiving dinner.
  2. Divide the students into pairs.  Using think, pair, share have each student write 3 "things" about the topic, i.e. 3 things you ate for Thanksgiving.
  3. Next, have the students meet with their partners and decide on 2 "things" to share, i.e. things they ate for Thanksgiving.  The teacher moves around the room helping groups as needed.
  4. Each group reports out and the teacher records the invormation in the appropriate section of the 4 square (details). 
  5. After adding the details, the teacher helps the students create and write a summary sentence.
  6. This piece can be added to each day and eventually result in a short paragraph or "piece" by the end of the week.
This level of scaffolding and language is beneficial for students developing the writing process.  Keep the pace brisk.

We tried it in class and the students thoroughly enjoyed it.  Stay tuned.  We will keep you posted.